Politics: August 2007 Archives

Antoine-Jean Gros "Battle of Abukir" 1806
but it never, ever looks like this

"Petraeus says Iraq 'surge' working" (headline of lead Reuters story on Yahoo!)

Do they think we have a hundred years to work on it? Do they think we're actually going to be able to stay? Do they actually expect we can establish any order whatsoever? Is our order their order? Under what mandate are we going to continue to occupy and terrorize another people? Have they any idea how these things always turn out? Do they know this is a grotesque imperialism, regardless of what they choose to call it this time around? Can we, and can the rest of the world, afford the luxury of our deceit, our mistakes, our illusions?

Don't they realize we know their speeches by heart?

Leopold's Congo (1885-1908)

French Indo-China (1887-1954)

Portuguese Angola (1486-1975)

Italian East Africa (1936-1942)

British South Africa (1795-1961)

American Phillipines (1899-1946)

Soviet Afghanistan (1979-1988)

Chinese Tibet (1950-?)

Japanese Nanjing (1937-1945)

Japanese Manchukuo (1932–1945)

German eastern Reich (1938-1945)

French North Africa (1830-1962)

Ottoman southeastern Europe (1453-1919)

British Ireland (1171-1921-?)

Spanish Netherlands (1579-1713)

Russian empire (1654-1991-?)

United States empire (?-1898-?)

[image from allthingsbeautiful]

we have a history

Except to most of the poor citizen infantry of every description and every station which it has been enlisting for six years, the so-called "war on terror" has always been fundamentally about controlling the powerless - and sustaining the power of the powerful.

By 2001, after almost a century of the political and social distortions and perversions committed in the name of fighting what ordinary folk were told was their enemy both outside the country and in their midst, the dreaded "Red Terror" had melted away. The lies which had succeeded in destroying the American Left had to be remodeled. A new devil had to be invented. And surprise! The Arab/Muslim world, the new monolithic (conceptualized) enemy, showed up on our doorsteps just in time.

Fifty years ago Senator Joseph McCarthy had shown us exactly how to go about fighting our imaginary devils. Some New Yorkers seem to have taken their cues directly from the American witchhunt which managed to silence or send into exile, among so many others, Charlie Chaplin, W.E.B. DuBois, Clifford Odets, J. Robert Oppenheimer, Paul Robeson, Bertholt Brecht, Hans Eisler and Pete Seeger.

You'd think that after 230 years what is now the strongest and richest nation in the world might finally be able to stand up for its professed principles and stop crippling itself in regular paroxysms of fear about real or imagined enemies allegedly capable of undoing us all.

I've wanted to write something on this story since it first broke, but what I knew about its complexity discouraged me from trying to do so in any compact form. Maybe the controversy about a school's conception and the form it was to assume had to be separated from what happened afterward.

Today the NYTimes carries a column on the Education page by Samuel C. Freedman, Columbia professor of journalism, which manages to assemble the basic facts and calmly describe the enormously-important issues involved. It's an appalling story of a distinguished teacher and social activist being defamed and peremptorily removed from a public post because of a racist, cultist and nativist stupidity and hysteria driven by media and political operatives and bosses representing the most shameful political opportunism, or deliberate calculation.

And remember this is in the multicultural, polyglot, ethnic cornucopia of New York City. From Freedman's piece in the Times:

“I hope it burns to the ground just like the towers did with all the students inside including school officials as well,” wrote an unidentified blogger on the Web site Modern Tribalist, a hub of anti-immigrant sentiment. A contributor identified as Dave responded, “Now Muslims will be able to learn how to become terrorists without leaving New York City.”

Not to be outdone, the conservative Web site Political Dishonesty carried this commentary on Feb. 14:

“Just think, instead of jocks, cheerleaders and nerds, there’s going to be the Taliban hanging out on the history hall, Al Qaeda hanging out by the gym, and Palestinians hanging out in the science labs. Hamas and Hezbollah studies will be the prerequisite classes for an Iranian physics. Maybe in gym they’ll learn how to wire their bomb vests and they’ll convert the football field to a terrorist training camp.”

Thus commenced the smear campaign against the Khalil Gibran International Academy and, specifically, Debbie Almontaser. For the next six months, from blogs to talk shows to cable networks to the right-wing press, the hysteria and hatred never ceased. Regrettably, it worked.

Ms. Almontaser resigned as principal earlier this month.

The school is designed to be entirely secular. It is named for a Lebanese-born Christian poet and visual artist who lived in New York. Eventually it is to include the sixth through twelfth grades, offering classes such as math and science in both Arabic and English. The academy will be one of more than 60 existing dual-language city schools teaching in languages such as Russian, Spanish and Chinese. The new principal unfortunately does not speak Arabic, but the fact that she is a Jew rather than an Arab might not have been a problem for the school's cosmopolitan namesake.

For a richer perspective read this excellent narrative from Steve Quester, a New York educator, activist and friend of mine, who is familiar with Almontaser's work.

There's also an excellent piece, "Jewish Shootout Over Arab School", in The Jewish Week, from which I have excerpted a section describing Almontaser's place in the larger community and the dismay of one wise and compassionate Jew concerned about what the incident will mean to his own community as well as that of New York City and even the nation as a whole:

Almontaser, a public school teacher and administrator, was born in Yemen but immigrated here when she was three. Since 9/11, the slight woman in a hijab had emerged as a prominent advocate in the Muslim community for reaching out and working with other faiths. After the attacks her son, an Army Reserve officer, served as a rescue worker at Ground Zero.

Among other things, Almontaser had invited hundreds of Jews and Christians to her own home in the wake of the terrorist attack to help defang fear and anger towards Muslims. She had joined social action groups, such as We Are All Brooklyn, an inter-ethnic initiative supported by JCRC [the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater New York], to combat hate crimes in the dense, mixed neighborhoods of that borough. She had trained with ADL’s anti-bias program, A World of Difference, to become a better facilitator for diversity training and inter-group dynamics in the public schools.

Rabbi [Michael] Paley, a scholar-in-residence with UJA-Federation, warned that the prominent role played by a faction within the Jewish community in the attack on her would “come back and bite us. This begins to destroy the America that's been so good to us.” Rabbi Paley, who has met Almontaser during interfaith activities, emphasized that in his remarks on this issue he was speaking only for himself and not his organization.

“The most important thing to know about the Muslim community here is that it replicates the Jewish community from many years ago,” he said. “These are people trying to become Americans as hard as they can, and also trying hard not to lose their identity, just as groups before them did.

“The idea that unless they pass an acid test — that Muslims are terrorists until proven innocent — will mean that none will pass. We are ultimately blocking them from becoming American,” he warned. The result, he said, would be an Arab immigrant community more isolated and less assimilated, “like the Arabs in France.” [my italics]

The message to the Arab-American community as a result of this debacle was, “You’re a fool to think they’ll accept you,” he said.

[image of James Pinckney Alley from Assumption College]

ruins of public toilet in ancient port of Ostia

Okay, even if no one has asked, does anyone want to know my take on the Senator Craig homosex arrest story? Well, it was actually my second thought, the less-than-honorable gentleman being a Republican, but it became paramount a few seconds after I began to read the arresting officer's account of the incident in Roll Call, the capitol Hill newspaper.

I think it's called "entrapment" when it happens to the people we think of as the good guys.

Isn't anyone else out there concerned about the fact that police officers in Minneapolis are being paid to sit inside airport bathroom stalls to trap guys interested in getting off?

[image from darkcreek]

our shame and ignominy abstracted as a color which has become familiar to the entire world

This post is part of a series begun on May 21, 2007, which will continue until the U.S. concentration camps at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere around the world have been razed.

And from Iraq, a related story:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24 — The number of detainees held by the American-led military forces in Iraq has swelled by 50 percent under the troop increase ordered by President Bush, with the inmate population growing to 24,500 today from 16,000 in February, according to American military officers in Iraq.

. . . .

“Interestingly, we’ve found that the vast majority are not inspired by jihad or hate for the coalition or Iraqi government — the vast majority are inspired by money,” said Capt. John Fleming of the Navy, a spokesman for the multinational forces’ detainee operations. The men are paid by insurgent leaders. “The primary motivator is economic — they’re angry men because they don’t have jobs,” he said. “The detainee population is overwhelmingly illiterate and unemployed. Extremists have been very successful at spreading their ideology to economically strapped Iraqis with little to no formal education."

Spreading the blessings of the American corrections system to needy people everywhere.


[fabric color swatch, otherwise unrelated to Guantanamo, from froggtoggs; second image by Benjamin Lowy via the NYTimes]


It seems that the tangled story at which I could only hint in my Tuesday post, "Ayn Rand linked to Deutsche Bank skyscraper tragedy?", has caused some serious bustle around the city desk at the NYTimes.

The lead story on the front page reports that the firm whose creators picked the Ayn Rand hero John Galt for its corporate name was a paper corporation with no employees. It had been assembled to insulate or hide its "integrity"-challenged owners and officers from the view of its clients, the people and officers of the New York community. This is the company which was given the lucrative contract to perform one of the most hazardous and certainly one of the most visible jobs in the city if not in the entire country.

Two firefighters died fighting a fire inside the building last Saturday, probably as the result of criminal negligence.

Meanwhile, inside the same section of the paper we learn in another story that the New York Fire Department hadn't inspected the Deutsche Bank building's standpipe or sprinkler system since 1996, in spite of the fact that twice-monthly inspections were mandatory for buildings under demolition. It seems the department was also aware that the sprinkler system was not working. Some have argued that the FDNY was unwilling or unequipped to enter a building permeated with the toxins that had necessitated its condemnation, but since demolition began firefighters had been in the building on at least two occasions for reasons unrelated to the standpipe or the sprinkler system.

[image of the two firefighters from NYFD via Gothamist]


Spc. Sam Ross

21 years old, 82nd Airborne, was wounded May 18, 2003 in Baghdad when a bomb blew up during a munitions disposal operation, leaving him blinded and an amputee. After many, surgeries, Ross was sent home to western Pennsylvania where he lives alone in a trailer, in one of the poorest counties in the state.

Photographed October 19, 2003 in the woods near his trailer in Dunbar Township, Pennsylvania.

"I lost my leg just below the knee. Lost my eyesight. I have shrapnel in pretty much every part of my body. Got my finger blown off. It don't work right. I had a hole blown through my right leg. You know, not really anything major. I get headaches. And my left ear, it don't work either."

"I don't have any regrets. It was the best experience of my life."


Cpl. Tyson Johnson III

22 years old, 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, was wounded September 20, 2003 in a mortar attack on the Abu Ghraib prison. He suffered massive internal injuries and is 100 percent disabled.

Photographed May 6, 2004 at his home in Prichard, Alabama.

"Most of my friends they were losing it out there. They would do anything to get out of there, do anything. I had one of my guys, he used to tell me, 'My wife just had my son. I can't wait to get home and see him.' And you know, he died out there. He sure did and I have to think about that everyday."

"I got a bonus in the National Guards for joining the Army. Now I've got to pay the bonus back and it's $2999. The Guard wants it back. It's on my credit that I owe them that. I'm burning on the inside. I'm burning."

There is nothing like this "summer show" anywhere in the city, if not the entire country.

Jen Bekman's current exhibition, "Purple Hearts" neither seeks nor requires an introduction. You may already have seen the book, but walk into the gallery's very neat pocket space on Spring Street on the Lower East Side before this deceptively-quiet installation closes on August 30. You will leave speechless, if not gasping for breath, while trying to understand how we got to this, and where do we go from here?

Nina Berman began this powerful body of work several years ago . Unfortunately her young portrait subjects had beaten her to it.

The gallery has scheduled a book-signing, reception and talk with the artist on Wednesday, August 29 from 6 to 8pm. Because of the gallery's small size, those who are interested in attending, or in reserving a book, are asked to rsvp [[email protected]]

[images from Jen Bekman]

skyscrapers have very complex lives

I've just read that the name of the sub-contracting company in charge of the demolition at the Deutsche Bank building is the John Galt Corporation. Who is John Galt? I immediately recognized the intriguing literary/political reference within the firm's name, and, regardless of what we eventually learn about the ultimate responsibility for the death of two firemen this week, the connection is likely to continue the fictional character's complex association with corporate greed and laissez-faire capitalism .

ADDENDA: I've turned up these few bits on the John Galt Corporation by searching Google and its cached links:

The firm is located at 3900 Webster Avenue in The Bronx [718-654-5300]; its principals are former executives of the Safeway Environmental Corp., a firm with its own history of problems; Galt's work at the Deutsche Bank site was already causing injury and incurring fines before this week; and finally, World Trade Center-area neighbors had expressed serious concerns about the firm's qualifications since early last year.

[image from wikipedia]


Guantanamo. Again.

But this time I'm encouraged by the appearance of a new site devoted specifically to the subject. Amnesty International has just gone public with a new site, tearitdown.org, dedicated to solely shutting down permanently the most notorious of the U.S. concentration camps.


I had purchased the domain they're using sometime last year with the intention of devoting it to a totally different form of protest, one which would not have addressed such fundamental issues of humanity. When Barry and I were approached by Amnesty's people I was happy to see it depart for higher purpose.

Bon voyage!

[all images from Amnesty]


Bloggy explains why he and so many of us have abandoned American electoral politics. My own take on it: A people which liked to describe its system as "democratic" has finally been occupied by what our last real "republican" President called "the military-industrial complex".

After a graceful segue into the subject of war crimes and collective guilt, Bloggy reminds us why these things matter as much today as they did in 1945.

[Tom Tomorrow image from Salon]


Keeping America out of the red (commie/pinko/welfare-state red) may bury us all.

I'm not much of a statistics guy, and I don't often trumpet NYTimes editorials, but there's some very simple numbers inside a short item in this morning's paper, and it deserves broader notice than it's likely to get.

Okay, the lead editorial with the sardonic headline, "Amateur Hour on Iran", is also worth a look, but here's an excerpt from the one I first spotted, "The Less-Than-Generous State":

The United States has long had one of the most meager tax takes in the industrial world. America’s social spending — on programs ranging from Medicare and Social Security to food stamps — is almost the stingiest among industrial nations. Among the 30 industrialized countries grouped in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, only four — Turkey, Mexico, South Korea and Ireland — spend less on social programs as a share of their economy.

Long a moral outrage, this tightfisted approach to public needs is becoming an economic handicap. Shortchanging public health impairs America’s competitiveness. If the United States is to reap the rewards of globalization, the government must provide a much more robust safety net — to ensure public support for an open economy and protect vulnerable workers.

Note that the four nations whose public systems are listed as even more selfish than our own are all known for the strength of their family structures - no adequate substitute for a less exclusive approach to conscience, and also not an attribute which individualistic Americans are known for sharing these days.

Hmmm. The richest country on earth, but with diddly-squat for the needy, ditto for the infrastructure, for the arts, for public health, for low-income housing, for public parks, for public transportation, for the elderly, for child care, for adequate public education or any number of the other functions which define a modern civil society; into whose pockets has our great wealth been flowing?

UPDATE: At the time I did this post I was unable to locate a complete image of Breugel's "Avarita", and I had to be content with the detail seen at the top. Today I found what I had been looking for, serendipitously. Tom Schreiber was visiting us and he had brought along a copy of Dover Publication's "Graphic Worlds of Peter Bruegel the Elder", and there it was. And here it is:

Pieter van der Heyden [after a drawing by Pieter Bruegel the Elder] Avaritia (Greed) 1558 engraving 9" x 11.5"

[1556 image ("Stinginess") by Pieter Bruegel the Elder from, and in an attribution by, cartage; second, full image from Metropolitan Museum]

she's busy (Quinn sharing with the Police Chief and the Mayor)

Over the past several months I've written repeatedly about my frustration and disgust with Chistine Quinn's attack on our First Amendment rights in her role as City Council Speaker.

She remains completely tone-deaf on the issue, positioning herself somewhere within the cold heart of the NYPD/Republican establishment.

But I'm not a single-issue agitator, and if Tip O'Neil was right when he said "all politics is local", Quinn's office should be very worried.

During this same period and starting well before, as one of her local district's constituents I have been trying to get her office's attention on the kind of ordinary small-scale problem neighborhood representatives handle all the time - and resolve.

In response to my inquiry about the construction of an invasive animated commercial advertising sign on a public sidewalk next to our home I was eventually told by Quinn's office that the City authorities had determined that the offending business had no permit for it and could not have been granted a permit had they applied for one because it threatened public safety. The installation would have to be removed within 30 days.

That was March 2, over five months ago, and it's now eight months since I first made inquiries.

I have been following up with my Council Member's office ever since to see why nothing has been done. Each time I've had to call, and I've been told the assistant forgot about it once again but would look into it right away. That has been repeated perhaps eight times.

On July 9 I learned directly from the Department of Buildings that the violation associated with the complaint number I had been given in December had somehow mysteriously disappeared months before. When I asked Quinn's office if they could get some explanation I was told the person to whom I had been talking over all these months was in a meeting but would call me later that day. On the day after someone else called and said that my file was second from the very top of the first assistant's priorities and I would hear back from her that very day.

I've not been called, and of course the offending installation (a spot-lighted giant revolving cupcake on top of a sidewalk canopy built too close to a hydrant) hasn't been removed.

For all his transgressions, and they were many, at least New Yorkers can remember Al D'Amato as someone who could get a pothole filled - "Senator Pothole". What are we going to call Christine Quinn?

[image by Julia Gaines from Newsday]



This post is part of a series begun on May 21, 2007, which will continue until the U.S. concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay has been razed.

[image, otherwise unattributed, via salvationinc]

crowd before an animated Norm Siegel at July 27 First Amendment rally

The Mayor's office has backed off from its outrageous set of proposed rules for people using photography anywhere in New York City. It's a great victory for a free people alert to the threat of arbitrary government and willing to oppose it, but I'd advise against relaxing any guards.

They'll be back. City officials said they would redraft the rules

In the end any proposed regulation absolutely must be held to a standard that freely permits photography anywhere in the city so long as people are not interfering with anyone else. Beka Economopoulos, the co-founder of Picture New York said it best:

I already have a permit for my camera; it's called the First Amendment
Corporations and governmental units of every size have their own surveillance cameras trained on me willy-nilly virtually everywhere I go in this city and at all times of the day and night. I don't recall their ever applying to me for a permit. I should not have to consult their directives or ask their permission to flip a shutter when I wish to do so myself.


Cato the Elder didn't have a blog, but he was still able to repeatedly harangue his fellow citizens at every opportunity, even at cocktail parties, with the slogan, CARTHAGO DELENDA EST! [Carthage must be destroyed!] He continued at it for years. Cato meant that Rome would never be safe while Carthage stood.

I do have a blog. The headline of this entry, a modification of Cato's ancient mantra, means that modern Rome, our own threatened republic, will never be safe while Guantanamo is allowed to stand. Whether in Rome really had to destroy Carthage may be at least arguable; the imperative for the eradication of Guantanamo is not.

[this post is part of a series of reminders begun on May 21, 2007, which will continue until the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay is razed]

[image, otherwise unattributed, via salvationinc]

This page is an archive of entries in the Politics category from August 2007.

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